By John Paul Basham
Most of us have had the experience of being immediately transported to another place and time by a smell. Maybe it’s the smell of one of your grandmother’s recipes or the aroma of a house well lived in. Smells bring memories that will stick with you forever.
For me it’s the smell of a bag of dog food. I know that’s weird, but let me explain. My first job as a 15-year-old trying to save up for my first truck was at a local pet shop called Pet Supplies Plus.
Three days a week I would put on my uniform, a comfortable pair of tennis shoes, and start slinging bags of dog food. Don’t get me wrong, the smell of dog food takes me back, but it’s not necessarily a fond memory. That was hard work!
I’ll never forget my manager telling me that when I was done unloading the pallets of dog food and stocking the shelves, I could go aisle by aisle and make sure every single bag and can of food was pulled to the front of the shelf with the label facing out.
I thought this was the worst, and I had absolutely no appreciation for why my manager was making me do something that felt so unnecessary. The only redeeming part of that job, in my mind, was the nights that the manager trusted us to close the store by ourselves.
On those nights, we unlocked the doors to the adoption center and let all of the puppies out of their cages for a night of fun. Clean up on aisle seven!
These experiences are important for young people to have early in life because it’s part of the discipleship equation. The concept of working for the Lord and “as something done for the Lord and not for people” (Colossians 3:23) is seen throughout Scripture.
Starting in the book of Genesis we see God as one who works as He creates (Genesis 2:3). In the Gospels, we read of Jesus’ work as a carpenter (Mark 6:3), and in the epistles, Paul models the value of work (1 Thessalonians 2:9).
So how do we teach this important value of work in an effort to raise the next generation of workers? Here are some ideas to consider, especially if you’re a student pastor, children’s ministry leader, or a parent.
1. Teach them the little things matter.
Admiral William H. McRaven wrote a book titled, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life and Maybe the World. In his book McRaven works through several lessons learned in Navy Seal training that can apply to our lives as well.
The first of these lessons is to make your bed every day. This may seem as trivial as I thought turning all of the dog food labels out was, but McRaven explains how this morning act sets you up for good decisions the rest of the day.
Making your bed gives you a sense of accomplishment and pride that may not be world changing, but the discipline to do the small things to the best of your ability will have a tremendous impact as the small pieces of your work add up to the sum total of your calling.
God calls us to do all we do with excellence, and it can be easy to cut corners and call it “efficiency,” but the filter we must teach young workers to look through is the glorification of God. He is glorified when we give our best, and ultimately this discipline will serve to set believers apart from the watching world.
Why do we work with full integrity? Why do we always do it the right way? Why won’t we compromise just this once?
Because God will not be honored in that. This is just the beginning of living out our calling and learning the value of work.
2. Teach them their identity is found in Jesus, not their work.
Students often dream of careers that will yield the most money and fame. No surprise there.
We all want to be known and loved and recognized for what makes us special, but Scripture calls us to make much of Jesus and not of ourselves. This doesn’t mean we have to put aside everything we enjoy for work we hate.
Scripture actually teaches that our joy is one of God’s priorities. As we enter into relationship with God and begin to follow Him, we learn what it’s like to be truly satisfied in God and not in the world.
Paul says in Philippians 4 that he’s learned to be content in all circumstances. This is because Paul’s joy came through his obedience and fulfillment in Jesus rather than his title or place in society. It’s this contentment in Jesus that brings us to a place of true joy, and as we are fulfilled in Jesus, we glory in and worship Him.
When our identity is firmly rooted in Christ, we understand we are children of God who’ve been placed where we are, whether geographically or vocationally, for the mission of pointing others to Jesus.
3. Teach them the joy of working inside of their spiritual gifting.
Once our identity is rooted in God, we realize another beautiful dynamic. God not only promises to fulfill us, but He also empowers us and gifts us in ways that allow for us to experience His joy.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks extensively about the gifts of the Spirit. He paints a picture of a body with hands, feet, eyes, etc. We, as the body of Christ, have been designed to enjoy God through specific gifts that all play a part in God’s plan.
So God not only tells us He wants us to work and find joy in Him (Matthew 25:21-23), but He also lays out a specific path for each of us to do just that. This makes me think of the book of Hebrews when the author says, “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
How wonderful and awe-inspiring it is to know that God has laid out plans for us to “have life, and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). When leading young people to understand what work should look like, this filter of the gifts of the Spirit should become a centerpiece of the conversation and a compass in decision making.
4. Teach them not to confuse their calling with their occupation.
This may seem like a step backward, but not confusing calling with occupation is a crucial element in raising the next generation of workers.
It’s possible to be called to teach and find yourself in an engineering firm. Paul was called to spread the gospel through evangelism and church planting, but he made tents to pay for it.
In God’s generosity, He gives us many talents and abilities, and seeking out our spiritual gifts is important. But those gifts may have a direct tie to our occupation, or there may simply be windows of opportunity for spiritual gifts to be used.
Consider the missionary who pursues a degree in education so he or she can move to a foreign country, become a teacher, and pray God opens opportunities to share the gospel.
Ultimately this is another step in understanding the motivation behind our work. Our work is a ministry. Our work is a vehicle to display the surpassing worth of Christ. Our work creates inroads for the free movement of the gospel.
5. Teach them by your example.
The best thing young people can see as they’re learning these principles of work is you living it out in front of them. Tomorrow morning, make your bed, open your Bible, and set your eyes on Jesus.
Ask the Lord to make that day’s work an opportunity for you to display the beauty of Christ, and as you see the Lord moving, invite your young workers into the process. Talk to them about how you displayed Christ that day. Commit to live for Him together.
Create an atmosphere of open and intentional dialogue about the things of God, and most importantly, pray for God’s direction.
JOHN PAUL BASHAM is manager of student publishing at LifeWay Christian Resources.